Some of the best smart speakers have Alexa inside, and Amazon has announced some new skills for its digital assistant that'll make your smart speakers even smarter. Best of all, you don't need to buy any new hardware to benefit.
One of the most useful new features is smart home scheduling, which will enable you to tell Alexa to do things in the future – such as turning the lights off at a particular time or after a specified period – without having to create a new Routine. It doesn't sound like a big deal but it's a useful feature to have, and it comes with support for remote switches too. That means you'll be able to trigger certain Alexa actions without speaking, which is useful for people who have speech disabilities; and of course wireless switches are much more versatile in terms of where you can place them.
I'm impressed by the Smart Home Suggestions feature, which will mix sensors and common sense to avoid common issues such as going out without locking the door. With Suggestions, Alexa will know if you're home and whether your door lock should be locked or unlocked as a result; it could then lock the door for you.
Control new Echos with old Echos
There are plenty of other features coming soon too: multi-camera views in Echo Show devices, and a clever idea called Edge Extensions that'll enable fourth-gen Echos and Echo Show devices to act as hubs for older Echos, so for example you could talk to an older Echo without an internet connection and get it to use the internet connection of the newer one. Voice processing will be handled locally on the hubs, not on Amazon's servers.
Last but not least there are some improvements to Alexa Together, which is Amazon's system for carers to use Alexa with vulnerable family members. The service will now be able to get notifications from smart home devices such as smart door locks or smart lights to let you know of any unusual activity.
According to Amazon, over 30% of people's smart home interactions now happen without users having to say anything, and these various improvements are designed to make that number even higher: the smarter your home, the less interaction you'll need to have with it.
So far Amazon hasn't announced specific dates for the new features, but promises they'll roll out in the next few months.